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‘We keep taking people for fools’: why the EU-New Zealand trade deal is not unanimous

It is with a smile that Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, and Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, announced the conclusion of a trade agreement between the two parties on June 30. An agreement presented as a win-win, and heralding “economic and commercial benefits for consumers, small and large businesses, in New Zealand and the European Union”summed up a press release from the European Commission.

Jacinda Ardern and Ursula von der Leyen were more than enthusiastic when presenting this new business agreement. ©AFP

An agreement presented as modern, too, which includes innovative commitments “on trade, sustainable development, including the Paris Climate Agreement”points out the Commission again.

But this opinion is far from unanimous. MEP Philippe Lamberts (Ecolo) fires red balls at this new trade agreement. “Its objective is not to tighten ties at the regulatory, environmental and social levels, but to maximize flows, in this case with a country located on the other side of the planet. In terms of trade, geography account. However, we cannot go further than the European Union and New Zealand”he points out.

A drop in the ocean of European trade

From an accounting point of view, Jacinda Ardern said the agreement could increase her country’s exports to our countries by just over one billion euros (1.8 billion New Zealand dollars ). As for European exports, they could increase by 4.5 billion euros to the Pacific island. For New Zealand, this agreement with its fourth largest trading partner is therefore good news, with trade between the two parties reaching nearly 8 billion euros.

“The UK just made a similar deal with New Zealand, which has an estimated GDP effect of 0.00%. I imagine things won’t be much different for the EU.”believes for his part Philippe Lamberts.

"I really wonder about the interest of this agreement"summarized the deputy Ecolo Philippe Lamberts.
“I really wonder about the interest of this agreement”, summarized the deputy Ecolo Philippe Lamberts. ©Jean-Marc Quinet

According to figures from the European Commission, the total amount of exports and imports of Union countries with outside countries in 2021 amounted to 4.3 billion euros (4,300,479,499.085 euros, to be exact) . Of this total, New Zealand contributed 7.78 million, or … 0.18%. “The only benefit of such an agreement can only be political. So I really wonder about its interest”he continues. “A trade agreement today, even with countries closer to us, should be a tool for regulatory convergence, but this is not the case. As long as we do not change the DNA of trade agreements that the European Union wants to negotiate, they will not be satisfactory for us. We understand the interest of having trade agreements, but their main aim must be to converge regulations upwards.”

“European farmers are the turkey of the farce”

The announcement of this agreement also worries the agricultural sector, which sees it as a new incursion by a competitor not subject to the same production standards. Competition deemed unequal and which could deal a new blow to the sector. “Obviously they are worried! The main goal sought by the countries that conclude agreements with Europe (New Zealand, Mercosur countries, etc.) is to export agri-foodstuffs more easily to us, and without necessarily respecting our rules. So I understand the European agricultural world: it is the turkey of the farce”deplores the MEP.

Trade agreements between the European Union and the rest of the world.
Trade agreements between the European Union and the rest of the world. ©European Commission

And to insist on the ecological aberrations to come. “Take milk for example. It is true that in New Zealand the animals graze outside and that milk production is better in New Zealand than in many countries of the Union. But for it to reach us, we have to dehydrate the milk to make it into powder, load it onto ships, take it across half the planet and rehydrate it once we get here… What is the meaning of a such maneuver? We keep taking people for fools.”

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For Philippe Lamberts, the way of concluding conventions and commercial agreements must be the subject of a complete revision. “People from DG Trade (“Directorate-General Trade”in charge of foreign trade, Editor’s note) wage a veritable holy war for trade, regardless of the social, environmental and even democratic costs. They are impervious to any argument other than the maximization of flows: we cannot argue with them. They still haven’t understood the new deal, like the Paris agreement or the reduction of the ecological footprint.”

And while the European Union insists on the importance of honoring the commitments of its Green Deal and its goal of carbon neutrality (by 2050), MP Ecolo sees this agreement as a step backwards. “You could say that the Green Deal European Union has three weak points: the common agricultural policy, trade policy and financial regulation policy. It retains very large gray areas and the treaty with New Zealand is one more”he concludes.

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